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Husband wins his appeal against an order to pay his former wife’s housing costs

Mills v Mills 2018 – In the Supreme Court

Husband wins his appeal against an order to pay his former wife’s housing costs

I recently wrote a short article titled Maintenance for Life concerning the variation of joint lives spousal maintenance in which I referred to the important case of Mills v Mills which was to be heard before the Supreme Court in June. Although a must-read for all family lawyers it was particularly relevant to me as a practitioner as I am engaged in a similar case on behalf of one of my clients.

Our highest appeal court has allowed Mr Mills’ appeal against an order increasing his maintenance payments to his former wife for the purpose of covering the shortfall between her existing maintenance and her current needs.

Mr and Mrs Mills were previously married. They divorced in 2002 after 15 years of marriage and agreed by way of financial settlement that Mrs Mills would receive £230,000 in capital and periodical payments (otherwise known as spousal maintenance) from Mr Mills at an annual rate of £13,200.

The husband on agreeing the settlement anticipated the wife would apply her capital award to the purchase of a new property on a mortgage-free basis for herself and the parties’ son. To the surprise of the husband and in view of Mrs Mills reduced work capacity due to her health she chose not to do so instead buying a more expensive property with a mortgage. Between 2002 and 2009 the wife bought and sold a number of properties but did not climb the property ladder responsibly by reinvesting her capital. Instead, she would dissipate monies drawn from gains made in the market on a more expensive lifestyle. By 2009 the wife sold her final property and began renting, devoid of her original investment capital. She had according to the husband been “profligate” in the management of her original capital lump sum which ought to have provided her with accommodation for the rest of her life.

The wife applied to the court for her maintenance to be varied upwards to take account of the increase in her needs brought about by her rental costs. The husband applied for either the discharge of the payments or at the very least a downward variation. The Judge at first instance held that the wife had not managed her finances wisely (although declined to find she was “profligate”) and that her needs had been increased by her financial choices rather than anything the husband had done. However, the Judge declined to vary the payments either up or down.
The wife appealed the decision to the Court of Appeal and was successful, with the court increasing the wife’s award to cover her basic needs which included her rental costs. The husband appealed that decision to the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court unanimously allowed the husband’s appeal and confirmed the Judge at first instance was entitled not to vary the payments. It must be remembered the grounds of the husbands appeal were very narrow and the law has not been significantly altered by Mills. However, what the Court of Appeal should of done was take into consideration the effect of the wife’s original capital payment in that it was designed to meet the wife’s housing needs upon divorce and the husband should not have to effectively pay twice.

Mrs Mills wanted to carry on living as well as she had done during the marriage….and she did, but not from her own endeavour or sound financial choices but from irresponsibly working the property market. When that money ran out she turned to Mr Mills…again. While the Supreme Court have not altered the existing law as such they have sent a message to reflect modern judicial thinking by saying say it was time for Mrs Mills to stand on her own two feet and that spousal maintenance ought not to mean “maintenance for life”.

If you are facing a similar situation following historic divorce and require advice about on-going spousal maintenance or its variation or any other family finance issues please contact us on 01785 223440